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Motivating Students

Most instructors have felt their students' enthusiasm for class deflate, if only momentarily. Teaching becomes challenging when faced with students who are visibly disengaged, routinely unprepared, or seemingly interested in one question alone: "Will this be on the final?"

Research on motivation and learning suggests that students are motivated to learn when:

  • They value what they are learning,
  • They expect to succeed,
  • They have some choice in or control over the task, and 
  • The cost of failure is low. (Svinicki, 2004)

You can use these research findings to help motivate students by:

  • Administering frequent low-stakes opportunities to practice skills.
  • Offering early and regular feedback on student performance.
  • Explaining the value of the course or of individual assignments.
    • How might the skills and knowledge required for each assignment relate to the learning outcomes? To other courses? To life outside DePaul?
  • Connecting course material to their real world experiences.
  • Beginning a class by determining what students already know or believe about a topic.
  • Incorporating active learning strategies.

More Strategies

  • Ask students to establish 1-2 of their own goals for your course. Setting goals can help students take ownership of their learning. 
  • Reframe deadlines as goal reminders. Students may feel more motivated to complete projects when they are reminded that these projects will help them reach their own goals. 
  • Offer students some control and choice when possible. For example, allow students to choose the medium for their final project (e.g., essay, video, website).
  • Draw on student interest to make learning more relevant. Encourage students to choose a research topic of their own interest.
  • Show enthusiasm and offer praise. Your enthusiasm for the subject can be contagious, and your encouragement can help students stay on track during your course.

Further Resources

Boekaerts, Monique., Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe. Zeidner. Handbook of Self-Regulation​. Burlington: Elsevier Science, 2005. Print. ​

Kirk, Karin. "Motivating Students." On the Cutting Edge: Strong Undergraduate Geoscience Teaching. National Association of Geology Teachers.

"Motivating Students." Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Svinicki, Marilla D. (2004). Learning and Motivation in the Postsecondary Classroom. Bolton, MA: Anker.

--. (2005). "Student Goal Orientation, Motivation and Learning." IDEA Paper #41. 

More on Motivation

Find more information on motivating students from the DePaul Center for Teaching and Learning's blog.

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